Neighbors still a ‘no’ on five-story Church Lane building

by Tom Beck
Posted 6/22/23

For a second time, Germantown neighbors overwhelmingly voted against a proposed five-story apartment building for 42-68 Church Lane.

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Neighbors still a ‘no’ on five-story Church Lane building


For a second time, Germantown neighbors overwhelmingly voted against a proposed five-story apartment building for 42-68 Church Lane, a large lot that was once a factory and is right next to the bustling heart of the neighborhood’s historic business district.

Developers Chagai Bader and Eliyahu Kantrovitz, of Olympia Holdings, need a zoning variance to put housing on the lot, which is currently zoned for industrial use. The meeting was organized by Faith Community Development Corporation and the 12th Ward Democratic Committee.

In the hope of winning neighborhood support, the development team had cut the overall size of the proposed building from 174,000 square feet to 157,000 square feet, and reduced the number of residential units from 143 to 125. They also added another 19 parking spaces, for a total of 93, and added two commercial spaces to the ground floor.

Finally, their revised proposal pulled the building back ten feet from the lot line, to align it with other buildings on Church Lane, and reduced the size of the top floor so that it has a setback of 22 feet on three sides, giving the five-story building the appearance of a four-story building from most angles. 

“We just thought this was a reasonable compromise of providing a lot of parking spaces, but also providing a nice experience at the Church Lane street level for pedestrians and then also for the building residents as well,” the development team’s architect, Kevin O’Neill, said at the meeting. 

Ultimately, these changes failed to persuade residents who said they still think the building is too massive. Many also said the building did not fit with the neighborhood’s architectural character. 

“There's the Hamill Mills, which is a larger building down the street, and this dwarfs that,” Oscar Beisert, a Germantown resident and preservation activist, said at the meeting. “From an aesthetic point of view, how is this responding to the neighborhood? I don't think it is.”

Others were still concerned about parking.

“You're not having people going in there who are going to use the [Route 23 bus] and walk over to Chelten Avenue to catch the train at night. They're gonna be people who have their own vehicles,” said another resident, Neil Kugelman, who works as a realtor in the area. “There's a lot of demand for parking, and there are very few parking places for the people who live on Church Lane.”

Residents also brought up the lack of affordable housing associated with the project. 

In response, the development team’s attorney Zhen Jin said the group planned to “condo-ize” as many apartments as possible to make them available for sale. The remaining units would be rented.

“We're not offering affordable housing as it is defined by the city or generally understood,” Jin said. “It is still market-rate housing, but what we are willing to do is to condo-ize it so we can sell the units too, which makes them more affordable.”

Condoizing the units, Jin explained, would essentially create more affordable residences for people looking to purchase homes. 

The project is scheduled to go before the city’s zoning board on Aug. 9.

Towards the end of the meeting, the head of Faith CDC, Ines Love, told attendees that the development team has the option of returning to the community for a third time with new changes. If not, the development team can either nix the project or hope to win a variance from the zoning board despite its lack of neighborhood support.